Year of Food and Drink creates over £30m in overseas promotion for Northern Ireland

The 2016 Year of Food and Drink was billed as part of a 'food revolution' for Northern Ireland - now it's over, those behind it say it has generated more than £30m worth of publicity for the region and many producers say it has helped boost the public's interest in what they do.

Masterchef champion for 2016 Jane Devonshire joined Yellow Door’s Simon Dougan to promote some of Northern Ireland’s local cheeses

From golf clubs launching recipe books to caravan parks running bake off events, lots of Northern Ireland businesses got behind the initiative, furthering the reach of the campaign’s £300,000 budget.

Michelle Shirlow, chief executive of promotion body Food NI, said: “The goal was the PR achieved – we aimed to achieve around £10m of advertising value equivalent generated, but at the last count in September it had already hit over £30m.

“2016 has been the year of surprises – people have been surprised to come here and find out how good our food is, but by 2020-2021 we want Northern Ireland to be established as a food destination.

“Food production in Northern Ireland has been transformed over the last 10 years. Ten years ago we didn’t have rapeseed oils, farmhouse cheeses or any major cider producers here, but there was a lot of people asking about it and wanting to diversify – now we’ve had cider companies in Armagh win all-Ireland awards.”

Deborah Girvan from Comber Farmers’ Market said the market had seen a 30% increase in footfall this year – something she put down to the campaign.

“The Year of Food and Drink was an excellent initiative which helped to raise the profile and quality of food produced here,” she said.

“We followed the monthly themes of the Year of Food which inspired us to plan and promote special markets. At the August market – which was meat month – we set up BBQs and invited local chefs to cook their favourite meat recipes and give out samples.

“The themed markets were a big hit with both traders and customers and we have seen our waiting list for new traders grow.”

Ms Shirlow said themed months were the key to the success.

“A year is too hard to digest but months are easier to deal with and with the different themes everybody had a chance to get involved and could plan ahead,” she said.

“I was very clear with restaurants and businesses that this is not about discounting – it’s about sparking interest in foodies and fostering that food culture.

“I would love for the benefits to filter down to the producers and I think that it eventually will.

“We’ve got the snowball halfway up the hill, we’ve just got to keep pushing it.”

Simon Dougan, Food Heartland founding member and chef and restaurateur behind The Yellow Door, said the year had fostered better relationships within the agri-food sector.

He said: “It’s done a number of really important things, but most importantly it’s been really brilliant for bringing people together. It’s brought producers and suppliers much closer and has helped them work together to promote each other. The worst thing we could do now is just forget about it and make it just one year – going forward we need to build on what has been achieved.”

Noel McMeel, executive head chef at Lough Erne Resort, agreed.

“We boast some of the best produce and know the pathway to showcase it on a world stage,” he said.

“We have such great talented chefs, restaurants, hotels, resorts, cafes, skilled cookery schools and we want to share our stories of our rich food heritage, all of which are becoming better known. The Year of Food and Drink has significantly widened our profile, sending a signal that we are a food destination and we are ready to do business on an international stage.

“For Lough Erne Resort the reputation for fabulous food is one of the reasons guests return. It has helped us believe not just how good we can become but it has helped to showcase our suppliers and tell some of the great food stories to our guests.”

Co Londonderry man Alastair Crown was busy throughout 2016 promoting his company Corndale Farm, which boasts one of the first chorizo to be made here.

And he said thanks to the Year of Food, it is already on menus across Northern Ireland.

The campaign also helped Tamnagh Foods, which makes Dart Mountain Cheese, double the amount of farmhouse cheese produced in Northern Ireland.

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